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U.S. to destroy weapons-grade plutonium

December 9, 1996
Web posted at: 5:20 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States plans to get rid of 50 tons of plutonium left over from the nuclear weapons program, the Energy Department announced Monday.

Disposal plans call for immobilizing some of the plutonium in glass, and burning the rest in nuclear power plants. The department also said it will store nuclear weapons materials at three sites, down from the current seven sites.

"For the first time in history, we will be destroying instead of creating weapons-grade plutonium," Energy Department Secretary Hazel O'Leary said at a news conference. icon (1.5MB/19 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)


Nuclear arms-control activists have criticized the approach of burning plutonium in commercial nuclear energy reactors, saying it would perpetuate commercial use and production of plutonium.

But the Energy Department said that, under its policy, the plutonium used in reactors would not be re-processed to recover plutonium.

"We propose to use the reactor to destroy plutonium, not to produce it," O'Leary said.

What to do with all the leftover plutonium has been the subject of intense and protracted debate. The material stays highly radioactive for tens of thousands of years, and just a small amount is needed to make a nuclear weapon.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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